Knocking on the Oak Door

One night in Tokyo takes on a surprising twist of yuzu.

It’s Friday night in Tokyo and the ex-pats are thirsty. You can see them walking the streets of Roppongi, a teeming area filled with office towers, shopping and nightlife, looking for a watering hole. I’m with my Canadian friend, Maria Bromley, a Bloomberg television producer who’s been living in Tokyo for more than a year with her kids and husband, Craig, the CFO of Manulife Japan. She steers us to the one place you can count on for a good drink, and plenty of ex-pats to chat with: the Oak Door on the sixth floor of the Grand Hyatt Tokyo. “Roppongi is full of little watering holes,” says Rethi Santra, Maria’s friend and a Bloomberg producer. “I like the setting here. It’s upscale. It’s a little bit more exclusive.”

At first glance, that’s exactly how it comes across. With its tall ceilings, dark wooden bar and the white sculpture resembling an oak tree hanging over it, this classy lounge is a warm, welcoming place. Jazz music wafts through the air, but it’s hard to hear over the conversational buzz. Sheer ivory curtains hang just behind the bar to separate it from the steakhouse restaurant side. The room is packed with everyone from lawyers and oil and gas consultants to finance and media types. Shingo Miyachi, the head bartender, says 70% of his customers are foreigners. They come for more than the atmosphere, according to friends of Maria’s. “They can actually make cocktails here, which is rare in Tokyo,” says Laura Huizi, another ex-pat wife with our group. Eddie Baffoe, the assitant manager for more than three years, says they see many celebrities, but he’s too discreet to share any names. Huizi mentions she once rode the elevator up with Eric Clapton. Who does the bar tend to attract? Says Baffoe, “The bankers and the beautiful ladies.”

Maria orders a vodka martini, but since mojitos are the month’s special, I browse the selection. There’s the yuzu mojito with yuzu liqueur (yuzu is a sour citrus fruit from East Asia), lime and passion fruit, or the twisted mojito with vanilla vodka, mint, lime and apple juice. Tempting, but I settle on a yuzu martini.Miyachi puts some limes, a lemon slice, mint leaves and syrup into a shaker, and muddles the mixture for about 30 seconds. He then adds yuzu liqueur and some crushed ice, and pours it all into a tall glass, topped up with 7Up. The trick, says Miyachi, is in the muddling. “Muddle it good,” he says. He does, and the result is delicious.

Don’t care for martinis or mojitos? The drink menu is as thick as a book—you certainly won’t be limited to sake or beer like in many other Japanese spots. But we don’t stay too long. This is Tokyo, after all. The night is just beginning. MICHELLE MAGNAN